“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”

I’ve been told that a lot. For some reason, I really love knowing the intimate details of scenarios or opinions that stab me right through the heart. So, did you guys have a really fun time at that wedding I wasn’t invited to? Did my ex bring a date? Was there an open bar? How about instead of getting these answers, I just assume that the wedding was unmemorable, my ex looked around the room and realized he’d never find someone as awesome as me, and it was a cash bar only. But, no. I always need to get the real scoop, then subsequently fight off all kinds of unwanted emotion. Really healthy.

When it comes to asking questions with unwanted answers, I tend to stick to the personal/relational/heartbreaking sort. I’ve noticed, however, that a lot of people don’t want the answers to general self-improvement questions. As a big proponent of the Change-It-If-You’re-Not-Happy Lifestyle (hence why I’ve moved 8,347 times since graduating college), I don’t really understand why people ask how to further their careers, attract more dates, or lose 20lbs if they’re not actually willing to do anything differently. Haven’t you heard the definition of insanity? Doing the same the over and over again and expecting different results. Come on, people.

When people ask me for advice, it’s usually on one of three topics:

  1. Dating (the irony is astounding)
  2. Wine (so proud)
  3. Weight (flattering)

I’m going to focus on #3 here because my answers to #1 and #2 are really, really simple. I’ll get them out of the way quickly:

  1. On getting more dates: Shower and be social. Give your number to someone if you think he’s decent looking/not a serial killer. Say yes when he asks you out. If he doesn’t ask you out, be a confident superstar and casually suggest meeting for drinks. Then meet him for drinks/whatever he suggests. Congratulations, you just went on a date.
  2. On wine: Drink whatever you think tastes good.

So, onto #3. Let me start by saying that I am acutely aware that I am not the most qualified person to answer questions about weight loss and health. I’m going to lay the facts out there, just so you know who’s talking here:

Full Name: Shannon Marie Oliver

Height: 5’7 ¾”

Current weight: 128lbs (though when I weighed myself yesterday morning, I was pretty dehydrated from all the wine I drank the night before…so you may want to add a pound or two. Just keepin’ it real.)

Heaviest weight: 149lbs (sophomore year of college)

Lightest weight: 118lbs (Miss Virginia 2011)

Favorite food(s): Velveeta Shells & Cheese, Guacamole, or Brie cheese. Can’t decide.


Workout regimen: 4-6 months of cardio 4-6 days a week. Followed by 2 months of forgetting the gym exists. Followed by 1 month of trying to decide if I should just cancel my membership. Followed by 1 month of building back up my routine. Repeat.

When people tell me that they want to lose weight, then ask me how I stay thin (oh, stop, not really, tell me more), I notice that 99% of them don’t actually want the answer. Which is to eat less and move more. It’s not rocket science. Unfortunately, particularly in our society, my definition of “eat less” seems really extreme to most people, as does my definition of “move more.” Sure, cutting out french fries or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are technically examples “eating less” and “moving more,” but that’s not really going to take a big dent out of the number on the scale. I’m not suggesting you starve yourself or become a marathon runner, but this is going to take a little more effort than not putting cream in your coffee.

Losing weight is a numbers game- you have to burn more calories than you consume. And people would be shocked if they knew how many calories they unknowingly consume per day. 1500 calories/day (the number that works for most women to lose weight) is a medium latte (200 cals), a burrito bowl at Chipotle (900+cals if you get sour cream, cheese, and guac), and a small serving of chicken and veggies at dinner (3-400 cals). Most people eat those three things, along with an egg sammy for breakfast, some pita chips and hummus in the afternoon, an extra serving of meat at dinner, and usually some kettle chips while watching TV before bed. Plus a couple hundred calories worth of beverages. When I try to explain that they have to stop consuming so much, people spout off all the “healthy” reasons for everything they eat. “You’re supposed to eat a big breakfast.” “Guacamole is healthy fat.” “You’re supposed to eat six times a day to keep your metabolism going.” “I have to energize before doing a workout.” I mean, keep telling yourself that you’re making healthy choices, but it’s not my fault your pants don’t fit.

Yes, breakfast is important. Yes, guac has nutrients. Yes, you can manipulate your metabolism with food. Yes, you need to fuel your body for a workout. HOWEVER, there’s no getting around the fact that if you eat a big breakfast, you’re still consuming much of your daily allotment of calories before 9 a.m. If you must eat a giant breakfast, prepare yourself to show some self-control at lunch and dinner. There’s also no getting around the fact that guacamole contains more calories than chocolate ice cream. Fact. And I hate being the bearer of bad news, but eating six meals a day will make you overweight. Six “meals” really means six “snacks,” if you’re looking at food intake through the eyes of an average American. Also, a “workout” does not mean taking a casual stroll through the park with some hills. Walking is an awesome way to start if you’re severely overweight, but if you only need to lose 20lbs, get your butt moving a little faster than that. And keep in mind that even running three miles only burns off some of the toppings on your Chipotle. Diet will affect your results a whole lot more than working out (though they do and should work in tandem).

As you can tell by my favorite foods and workout regimen, I’m obviously not a fitness guru who loves yoga and crossfit and never sees the scale fluctuate. When the scale does jump up 5lbs, I’m very aware that it’s simply because I’m eating too much and cobwebs are beginning to form in my sneakers. The key to weight loss and maintenance is being honest with yourself and catching a backslide early. For me, cutting out entire food groups or following diet plans just leads to binge eating. I’m an excellent and impressive binge eater. Because of not wanting to perpetuate that talent, I’ve never been on a technical “diet” and the only time I cut out a food group was leading up to Miss Virginia. (I stopped eating starchy carbs. Getting on stage in a bikini and heels will make you do crazy things.) Anyway, when I gained weight my sophomore year of college and during my first five months in NYC, I didn’t really change what I ate. I just ate more of it. When I lost weight, I just stopped eating portions designed for NFL linebackers. Truth: it’s not necessarily what you eat, it’s how much you eat.

In my current stage of maintenance, I am aware of what I put in my body, but don’t overthink it. If I want fries, I get fries and eat as many as my little heart desires (which is usually all of them). But if I do that at lunch, I eat less than usual at dinner. Since that tends to be my routine (big lunch, tiny dinner), my coworkers think I have the metabolism of a hummingbird and my roommates think I’m borderline anorexic. I’ve stopped caring what they think and just do what works for me.

When people ask you how to achieve something, most of the time they don’t want the answer because the answer challenges their lifestyle. In this case, it’s “Oh, the way you stay thin isn’t how I want to do it” or “You just snap your fingers and lose weight because you had to do that when you were in pageants” or “You don’t indulge enough.” Alright, that’s totally cool if you want to think that. I know I’m not a poster child for healthy choices, but at least I’m honest, not at war with food, and apparently look decent enough for you to ask for my advice.

Listen, improving your life is not easy. And weight loss/maintenance holds unique challenges for everyone (plus we all look good at different weights, thanks to differing body types). No one escapes the temptation to make excuses about one or more areas of life- some people just entertain their excuses longer than others. For all of us, though, it’s time we start asking questions and actually acting upon the answers.

(I’m talking strictly the self-improvement questions, here. Still haven’t learned my lesson about those pesky personal/relational/heartbreaking questions. I’ll stop asking them someday. Maybe.)